Thursday, May 6, 2010

Springfest vs. Volunteerism by Mike Grundmann

When the Springfest riot broke out in Harrisonburg on April 10, the opposite kind of activity was going on across town, and JMU students were at the center of both. Dozens of students were helping with the annual Blacks Run cleanup, where almost 3 tons of trash were collected.

The nest day 35 members of the JMU swim club helped the city clean up the Springfest garbage the next day.

There have been plenty of shame-on-yous leveled by JMU community members after Springfest: President Rose and a professor both wrote a scalding letters to the student newspaper, The Breeze, and at least two students wrote confessional pieces. Dozens of readers added their comments. The Breeze also probed the riot’s causes in a piece on mob psychology.

The following week, a group of students spontaneously formed to start patching up relations with the city and offer volunteer work. The group members are talking with city leaders so its volunteer efforts can be meaningful.

I’m the Breeze faculty adviser, so pardon me if I cite a few stories just from this semester, which prove the altruism permeating the student body. After the Haitian earthquake, a group struggled desperately to reach its $30,000 fundraising goal. A 25-hour basketball game raised money for orphans in Mozambique as well as the local Boys and Girls Clubs (one organizer played for 18 hours). An airplane-pulling contest raised money for a city mediation center. The women’s lacrosse team served a Sunday meal at the Salvation Army. The annual Relay for Life, a cancer-benefit walk that’s an overnighter, drew about 2,000 people and raised more than $150,000.

Just using examples from my own journalism classes this semester, one student spent spring break helping the homeless in Nashville, and another helped build a shelter for homeless teen girls in Belize.

It’s not just volunteer hours that JMU students contribute. The university is also a lab for the kinds of technology that will save the world. One student in 2008 invented a new type of concrete mixer that will raise the standard of living in a Ugandan village. An electric motorcycle that students built has set a speed record. Students are also designing bicycles that disabled people can ride. Others are experimenting with nanotechnology, which will produce eventual wonders in medicine, manufacturing and space travel. There’s a lab with printers, quote-unquote, that make 3-D objects; the prediction is that we’ll all have such printers at home in 10 years. And, from the president on down, there’s a major push to minimize waste in energy and materials. JMU just won a governor’s award for that

I’m continually impressed by how many of my students list activity or office-holding positions on campus, the vast majority of them service-oriented.

Did some of these same students also attend Springfest? Yes. Did they throw bottles? I don’t know, but I doubt it.

I’m not saying all this because I’m the booster type. I’m a journalist by training, and you know how skeptical we can be. I’m doing this because the Springfest riot really surprised me, and I wanted you to know why I was surprised.

    -- Mike Grundmann teaches journalism at J.M.U. and advises the Breeze, the student newspaper.

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